Doctors embark on strike in Nigeria’s state of Enugu as coronavirus hits and anxiety mounts it could spread

Chief White House Correspondent for | + posts

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

Chief White House Correspondent for | + posts

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

Some Nigerian doctors have gone on strike to demand better working conditions even as the coronavirus hit Africa’s most populous country on Friday, triggering fears that like elsewhere the virus that causes COVID-19 could spread across the country and beyond.

The first confirmed case of coronavirus in Sub-Saharan Africa was announced on Friday in Nigeria.

An Italian who works in Nigeria returned from Milan on Tuesday and tested positive for the virus on Thursday.

At least 39 people who came in contact with the patient have been quarantined in Ogun State, Southwest Nigeria, local newspapers reported on Sunday.

In addition, at least five foreign nationals were reported to have been placed under surveillance in Calabar, Cross River State, Southern Nigeria, by government after they flew into the city on Friday.

The Commissioner of Health in the state, Beta Edu, said the five persons were two Europeans, one Indian and two Chinese.

The confirmed case of coronavirus infection in Nigeria is the third case in Africa, the first in Sub-Saharan Africa.

On February 14, 2020, Egypt announced the first case of Covid-19 in Africa. Algeria declared it had a case on Tuesday, an Italian adult who arrived in the country on 17 February.

With the number of infected people multiplying around the world, Nigerian Minister of health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who was a guest on Channels Television Sunday Politics, said there was total vigilance across all points of entry into Nigeria, including land, sea and airports.

“On January 31, we had an inter-ministerial and multi-sectoral meeting in Abuja with services related to coming into the country.

“We have focused largely on our international airports; the five, of which four are functional at the moment. The possibility of importation by sea is remote but we are not taking our eyes away from there, the Ports health authorities are also with us in our conversations,” he said.

Many health officials from around the world are calling for vigilance to contain the spread of the virus and limit the number of casualties.

However, local newspapers in Nigeria reported on Sunday that doctors in the southeastern state of Enugu were embarking on strike.

Enugu Metro reported that there was “confusion” and “agony” among patients at the ESUT Hospital Parklane Enugu as resident doctors embarked on a five-day “warning strike” to press for better conditions of service.

The publication quoted the government as describing the strike as illegal, adding that patients, including those with complications, were being hurriedly discharged as a result of the strike.

The publication quoted officials at the ESUTH Parklane branch of the Association of resident doctors as saying that a letter was written to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi on Friday 28 February 2020 to inform him resident doctors would embark on the warning strike the following day on Saturday.

“We also told him that we shall follow it up with an indefinite strike if nothing was done to address their demands for better pay and condition of service,” an official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter said.

The official said the decision to embark on strike was taken on Thursday 27 February 2020, after the Association’s emergency meeting to appraise the conditions under which doctors are working at the hospital.

The resident doctors said there was a lingering brain drain among ESUTH resident doctors as a result of the poor conditions.

“Many of us are sad that this is having a huge impact on the quality of care that patients are receiving and we’ve told the Governor of our concerns in this area,” he said.

He also mentioned non-implementation of the corrected Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMES) which the residents hoped would have led to adjustments in their minimum wage, the publication said.

It added that “although the Union acknowledged payment of minimum wage adjustment by the government, they said the recent increase arising from minimum wage computation “though appreciated … will not suffice.”

“We have actually exhausted all diplomatic channels and negotiations with government to address the challenges hence the resort to a warning strike,” it quoted a source as saying.

The Enugu State Government in a statement on Sunday March 1, 2020 described the strike action as “ill timed, condemnable, not done in good faith, and not in keeping with the creeds of the Hippocratic oaths.”

The publication said: “Speaking on behalf of the Commissioner for Health, Permanent Secretary Dr. Ifeanyi Agujiobi, regretted the timing of the strike, especially as it affects patients being given free medical and surgical treatment from a recent medical outreach by an American NGO, who he said are not being attended to.

“In addition, Dr. Agujiobi said ARD ESUTH Parklane doctors should not have gone on strike at a time that the country is dealing with the challenge of the new Corona virus outbreak.

“He condemned the hurried discharge of patients in the wards, including those with complications.

“Government also took time to lecture the doctors on trade union strike process, accusing union officials of giving less than 24-hour notice of strike to the government, against the rules, and thereafter going underground.

“All key officials of ARD ESUTH Parklane have remained incommunicado as their phones are switched off,” he complained.

“More worrisome is that the Enugu state government has not owed any of the doctors their monthly salary and the doctors are well cared for. This last month February salary was paid on Saturday 22nd February 2020 with the New minimum wage and the upward consequential adjustment.

“The discussion on further enhancement of the welfare of ARD doctors at ESUTH Parklane is being looked into even as the Management of ESUTH Parklane hospital has been asked to bring up the comprehensive list of all the ARD doctors so as to evaluate the TENANCY of their residency training program as some of them have actually overstayed their duration as contained in their appointment letters for the residency program so as to know the actual  doctors that Enugu state government is dealing with.

“Be informed that Enugu State Government secured Accreditation in some relevant departments and is poised to see that the hospital is placed at enviable position to other training institutions with Enugu State Executive Council approvals made recently in several facets as requested by the management of ESUTH Parklane.

“ESUTH Parklane ARD should also note that the notice of the strike was signed by one Dr. Chukwunonso N. Ofonere who was suspended by the Enugu State Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) on allegation of fraud which makes this notice of strike further unlawful, complicit and illegal.

“We therefore advise all doctors in ESUTH Parklane to be at their duty post so as not to abscond from their civic responsibilities. Any loss of life or complications arising from this unlawful action at ESUTH Parklane will be seriously dealt with as Enugu state government will take it head on with the management of ESUTH Parklane and the managing team of the occasioned patient.

“We implore the general populace and good people of Enugu state to be also aware that our General hospitals at Nsukka, Enugu Ezike, Udi, Agbani, Awgu, Ikem, Uwani as well as the Poly General Hospital Enugu are well equipped and ready to take medical consultations and treatment by our medical and health personnel.

“Finally, we still encourage everyone to observe basic universal health precautions and personal hygiene in this wake of National health disease outbreak.” the statement said.

Simon Ateba

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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